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Camille Paglia in Berkeley, October 24, 2012

Camille Paglia

595 words

On Wednesday, October 24, 2012, some friends and I met at Jupiter Pizza in Berkeley and then went to see Camille Paglia speaking on her latest book Glittering Images at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

The auditorium was almost packed. Paglia spoke for about 90 minutes, answered one question for about 10 minutes more, then signed books for an hour or so. She was her usual charismatic self: a fast-talking, hand-waving, manic blur of energy; a cascade of insights, polemic barbs, witticisms, and warmth; a fusion of academic discourse and stand-up comedy. Even the Berkeley audience was moved to laughter and applause at her barbs against Marxism, feminism, political correctness, and postmodernism. (“Berkeley is the worst!”)

The first part of her talk summarized the Introduction to Glittering Images, and the rest was devoted to a slide show of and commentary on 33 images (3 of the same piece) that were not included in the book. (The book would have been much improved if she had included most of them.)

The images included the famous Minoan “snake goddess” statue, a fragment of an Amarna portrait of Queen Tiye, a small Roman copy of Phidias’s colossal chryselephantine statue of Athena, and three stunning Roman portraits. The Minoan and Roman images would have better rounded out her discussion of Antiquity, but the Amarna fragment is certainly not the best choice for a single Egyptian sculpture, and classical Greece is already over-represented, so the Phidias copy would be overkill.

Cimbaue’s Crucifixion

In the book, the Middle Ages are represented by a single page from the Book of Kells. In the lecture, she discussed Cimbaue’s (c. 1240–1302) monumental Crucifixion from Florence’s Basilica di Santa Croce (plus two heartbreaking images of the damage done by the 1966 flood); exterior and interior views of a rose window at Notre Dame de Paris, plus a gargoyle; and Duccio’s (c. 1255–1260–c. 1318–1319), “Maestà with Twenty Angels and Nineteen Saints,” a monumental altarpiece in Siena.

As for the Renaissance, Paglia left out two drawings by Da Vinci and Michelangelo’s image of the fall and expulsion from Paradise from the Sistine Chapel. These would have certainly improved the coverage of the Renaissance, but still she did not treat anything from the Northern Renaissance.

Her coverage of the 17th century would have been improved by including Rubens’ “The Three Graces.” Her treatment of the Rococo would have been enhanced by Boucher’s portrait of Madame de Pompadour. Her discussion of the 19th century would have been deepened by Alma-Tadema’s “The Triumph of Titus,” an example of the academic painting against which the impressionists and other avant-garde schools were in revolt.

François Boucher, Portrait of Madame de Pompadour, 1756, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

As with the published book, the discarded images listed heavily toward Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and 20th century modernism: Degas, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Matisse, Henry Moore, Dalí, Rothko, Oldenburg, etc. The book certainly would have been improved by including the Van Gogh and Dalí paintings but not the others.

Quibbles about image selection aside, I found Paglia’s commentary always illuminating. I particularly appreciated her meticulous, un-PC attention to fashion, which she sees as a cult of beauty rather than a form of oppression.

Even though Glittering Images is the least of her works, Camille Paglia is a national treasure, one of the few contemporary writers whom I would call a genius. She will surely be making other appearances around the country to promote her new book. Seek her out, for a taste of the education we are all missing.


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  1. Posted October 27, 2012 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    I would have liked to have been there. I read Sexual Personae at 17 and saw her at a reading in NYC a couple of years later–she was obviously much younger, flanked by security guards, and terrifyingly articulate. I’m usually not interested in what women, let alone lesbians, have to say, but she is an iconoclast.

  2. Lew
    Posted October 27, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I caught Paglia in Miami years ago and got my books signed. There were about 1000 people in a space designed for a much smaller group. Paglia got heckled by an ugly feminist. Everybody mocked her and shouted her down. Good times. I agree Paglia is a genius. Her genuine love for Western genius shines through with every comment. Her critics are small-minded fools and retards, often uninformed too.

  3. Izak
    Posted October 27, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Nice to see that she expanded her coverage of the middle ages in the lecture. I suppose that if “art of the middle ages” had to be summarized in a single image, something from The Book of Kells would be a good choice… especially because it had a neat cartoon movie made about it a while back, so it might be more recognizable to your typical liberal arts-educated person. Or maybe the Chi-Rho page from the Lindisfarne book could work.

    I’ve never read any book by hers, and I doubt that I’ll read this one, but I think it’s nice that she’s using her star power to draw attention to pure aesthetics. More public intellectuals should do that, and not in an ironic, reflexive fashion, either. And it’s refreshing that she’s aiming for a quality-based appreciation for a small array of images rather than flooding the viewer/reader with endless variety. Most regular people can’t handle the latter; they need to have their attention focused for them, especially since the internet has been responsible for people to take a “quantity over quality” approach in their consumption practices.

  4. Joseph Bishop
    Posted October 27, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Paglia used to be a liberal feminist – now she calls herself an ‘amazonian feminist’ – doing her bit to weaken marriage, the family, gender relations overall, the white birthrate, etc. It is remarkable how she has now turned against much of that. She won’t vote for Obama, she now celebrates childbearing and family, and has adopted so many other positions that we can agree with.

    She is far from alone. Quite a number of formerly destructive feminists have come to reject that Jewish -ism and now speak out against it. Christina Hoff Sommers, Daphne Patai et al… although the Jewish ones – most or all of them Marxists – still firmly stick with it. Even Naomi Wolf – another Jewish feminist – now takes a modified position on abortion in which she claims human life begins at a particular point during the pregnancy – which just happens (surprise!) to exactly match the Jewish theological position on that.

    Feminists now represent themselves and pretty much nobody else BUT they still have tremendous power in our culture and institutions as they have made ‘the long march’ through it and to the top. The worst ones are childless and rapidly aging and will soon enough disappear, perhaps this Jewish -ism will disappear as well. I hope so.

    • rhondda
      Posted October 27, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      Thank you. There is a spurious movement that disclaims being a feminist when such a position is so obvious. A heterosexual woman could not do this. It is only by appropriating the male persona that it is possible. What does that do to her as a female? What does that do to young women trying to figure out who they are in all honesty? Should young women aspire to be like her? What is femininity anyway? Who decides?

  5. me
    Posted October 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Is it possible to arrange a podcast interview with her? Greg or Robert Stark could ask her interesting questions.

  6. Jack Laurent
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been sharing this article and the (QTV) video of Camille Paglia with a handful of atheist groups online and the response is just… underwhelming.

    The sentiment amongst those vocal enough to engage in dialogue seems to generally be; “Camille Paglia insults Hitchens, therefore Camille Paglia is crazy with an AGENDA” and they don’t even want to acknowledge any of the points about community and “morality” which Paglia was talking about. On one hand, I agree, atheism isn’t a world view and therefore no “moral guidance” needs to be there, however, if in a sad state of affairs religion is the only place people literally get moral guidance, then by taking away religion and then refusing to offer an alternative for guidance, then community falls apart.

    My thought is that atheists should take on the role of the educator, if we’re clever enough to realize that god doesn’t exist and we take away the comfort blanket from people when we tell them this, then we have an obligation as “decent people” to teach them WHY they have a reason to remain as decent people.

    A lot the more vocal atheists seem to come into it from an angle of individualism though and use the whole Ayn Rand rhetoric to rationalize to their own predatory individualism in day-to-day… but thats just in my experience. There are plenty of atheists who don’t do that; i’m not trying to generalize a group that’s essentially lumped together involuntarily in the first place.

    • Lew
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      I can’t say I’m surprised. Most atheists are so stupid and pig ignorant it often makes me embarrassed to be one myself.

      • UFASP
        Posted October 28, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

        “On one hand, I agree, atheism isn’t a world view and therefore no ‘moral guidance'”

        Yes, it’s really a fake category in some ways. One is defining themselves in terms of a negation. It would be much like a Latino calling themselves a “non-white” or a white person calling themselves “*not* a person of color.” That “atheism” is such a magnet label today has as much to do with people being shallow and materialistic as it does with religion having lost most of its credibility. It’s a mixed…do I dare say it?…blessing, in my opinion, that people are increasing atheistic in sensibility. But if people were less shallow, they wouldn’t feel the need to define themselves in terms of a negation on spiritual matters. For me, atheism meant simply eliminating something I was NOT. It meant sweeping a bunch ideology aside before moving onto something more affirmative. It was not by any means some ontological conclusion for how to approach the world.

        So, as an atheist myself (again, this is descriptive here rather than an identity label), I can’t say I feel any sense of commonness with anyone else who calls themselves an “atheist” unless their negation of religious faith actually leads them to similar conclusions about life that I have come to. Usually, I find, that so-called atheists have more in common with the Christians they so often claim to despise rather than any true skeptic. And many so-called atheists need some sort of religious belief (whether they realize it or not) which is why many seem to have unwittingly made a religion out of their negation.

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